Bajrang Punia's bout with Daulet Niyazbekov ended 9-9 but the Kazakh wrestler was declared the winner as he was given a bigger throw of four points in the bout. (Image credit: Twitter)
Bajrang Punia lost his semifinal bout against home wrestler Daulet Niyazbekov under controversial circumstances after he secured his place in the Tokyo Olympics along with debutant Ravi Dahiya at the World Wrestling Championships in Nur Sultan on Thursday. Bajrang's frustrated coach Shako Banitidis kicked the coach's block in anger, protesting the partisan officiating during the 65kg bout, which ended 9-9 after a nerve-wracking six minutes. Since Niyazbekov was given a bigger throw of four points in the bout, he was declared winner. In the controversial bout, the referee gave ample time to tiring Niyazbekov to catch his breath and he was not given warning at least thrice. Instead, the home wrestler was awarded four points when they should have gone to Bajrang for effecting a throw at the edge of the circle.
Several times, Bajrang raised his hands in frustration but to no avail. The last edition silver medallist Indian will now have to fight for the bronze medal on Friday. Ravi Dahiya, who felled a few stars on his way to the semifinals, also lost his semifinal bout 4-6 to reigning world champion Zaur Uguev from Russia and will fight for the bronze. Ravi also made it to the Tokyo Olympics in 57kg after stunning Arsen Harutunyan, the 61kg European champion from Armenia and 2017 world champion and world number three Yuki Takahashi of Japan.
Making full use of an easy 65kg draw, Bajrang steam-rolled one opponent after another earlier in the day to reach the semifinals. Bajrang did not have to work much in going past Poland's Krzysztof Bienkowski in the opening round. He easily beat his opponent 9-2. Bajrang's next opponent was David Habat who did not bother the Indian much though the Slovenian twice had his right leg in his clutches. The first chance was in first period from ground position and then in the standing position after the break. The Slovanian, surprisingly, could not exploit the advantageous position. In the quarterfinals against Korea's Jong Choi Son, Bajrang lost a point for stepping out but won the bout comfortably 8-1 after that. In an incredible debut, Ravi Dahiya won the first two bouts by technical superiority in the 57kg.
In a remarkable turnaround he erased a six-point deficit to log 17 points in a row with his counter-attack to shock Arsen Harutunyan, the 61kg European champion from Armenia. What was impressive about Ravi was that despite trailing 0-6, he kept his cool and stayed in the bout and eventually found a way to tear apart the defence of the Armenian.
There was a bit of drama towards the end when Armenia challenged the bout-finishing point. After much delay and watching replays, Ravi was declared the winner. Ravi's first victim was Korea' Sunggwon Kim. In the quarterfinals against Yuki Takahashi, one of the toughest to beat in 57kg, Ravi showed tremendous composure to eke out a 6-1 win.
The Indian did not let the formidable Japanese play his game as he restricted his famous swift movement. In the women's competition, there was no end to the woes of Rio Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi, who lost her opening round 7-10 to Nigeria's Aminat Adeniyi. Sakshi waited too long to attack while her powerful opponent moved quickly. Sakshi is out of the championship since the Nigerian later lost her quarterfinal bout. In the 68kg, Divya Kakran could not do much against reigning Olympic champion Sara Dosho from Japan, losing the bout 0-2.